VAI is actively advocating to protect airspace access over national parks and monuments across the United States amid efforts by the FAA and the National Park Service (NPS) to restrict or eliminate air tours over national parks.

Recently, the agencies asked for comments on an air tour management plan (ATMP) for Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly National Monument that proposes the elimination of all overflights. VAI Chief Government Affairs Officer Cade Clark underscores the potential damage this and other ATMPs could cause.

“The FAA and the NPS are finalizing ATMPs for 23 parks, with some plans cutting air tours by up to 86% and others calling for their complete cessation,” Clark notes. “We are staunchly advocating to preserve access to this airspace, not only for air tour operators but also for members of the public who wish to experience the beauty of the parks and monuments from the air.”

VAI is counting on support from the vertical flight community to challenge the proposed ATMP restrictions and emphasize the importance of preserving access to park airspace for everyone. As part of this effort, the association is seeking relief from ATMPs that do not appropriately safeguard park visitor access and enjoyment of America’s natural treasures. VAI has also established the ATMP Legal Defense Fund for Airspace Access, aimed at supporting lawsuits filed by air tour operator members that challenge airspace restrictions in national parks.

“By challenging proposed airspace restrictions and highlighting the economic and social consequences, VAI aims to ensure that future generations can continue to enjoy the splendor of America’s natural landscapes from both the ground and the sky.”

In its advocacy efforts, VAI is underscoring the economic implications of restricting air tours, particularly the potential losses to the aviation industry, and the vital role air tour operators play in providing entry-level jobs for pilots and supporting local economies. The potential closure of air tour operations at national parks could lead to significant job losses and disrupt the aviation industry’s workforce pipeline—a situation that demands immediate attention and action.

The economic impacts of restricting helicopter tours extend beyond the operators themselves to the communities they serve, including potentially devastating small communities reliant on tourism.

“We hope our advocacy underscores the importance of striking a balance between conservation efforts and public access to national parks,” says VAI President and CEO James Viola. “By challenging proposed airspace restrictions and highlighting the economic and social consequences, VAI aims to ensure that future generations can continue to enjoy the splendor of America’s natural landscapes from both the ground and the sky.”

VAI is also criticizing the ATMP development process for excluding crucial safety input from organizations such as the National Parks Overflights Advisory Group, an approach that hinders collaboration between industry stakeholders and regulators.
With upcoming court cases looming, every contribution to the ATMP Legal Defense Fund is crucial. VAI members who would like to contribute to the fund may visit rotor.org/atmp-ldf to learn more.

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